Today is the day that the UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball team opens its 2010 campaign in the Thunderdome. The Gauchos are set to play host to Cal State Northridge at 11 a.m. in the first round of the 46th annual Santa Barbara Invitational, followed by a 7:30 p.m. matchup against either Cal Baptist or Long Beach State. Heading into the year, Santa Barbara is ranked 14th nationally in the AVCA Preseason Division I-II Coaches Poll. Northridge, who defeated the Gauchos in the season opener last year, is ranked ninth.

“The last couple of years, we haven’t been getting the best preseason rankings,” junior middle blocker Scott Slaughter said. “We have the same guys returning, and everyone is getting better, though. To be honest, I think we’ve got a good shot at making a run for the title this year.”

In three matches against Northridge last year, the Gauchos went 0-3 and were outscored by a total count of 9-1. This year, however, Santa Barbara will look to avenge those losses. In a preseason match, the Gauchos beat the Matadors in four games in a tournament at UCLA.

“We are looking a lot better than last year, and [Northridge] lost one of their best players,” Slaughter said. “We are hoping to take them down in three this time.”

Led by second-year Head Coach Rick McLaughlin, UCSB hopes to finish higher than its 11th place finish in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) last year. Heading into this year, the Gauchos have been picked to finish 10th in the division for the second year in a row.

Armed with a roster that features nine freshman and only two seniors, the 2010 Gauchos will look to improve on last year’s 8-19 overall record, including a 4-18 finish in conference.

Middle blocker Sam Moisenco and opposite hitter Jake Rosener, the two seniors on the squad, are joined by four juniors from the regular starting lineup last year. Outside hitter Jeff Menzel, setter Vince Devany, middle blocker Scott Slaughter and libero Andy McGuire round out key players in their second year together as at least part-time starters. Having a full year playing together is sure to help add consistency and trust amongst the teammates.

With Slaughter currently coming back from surgery on a severed tendon on his
middle finger, new players have had to fill in.

“Freshman [middle blocker] Dylan Davis is stepping up, and he’s absolutely destroying it,” Slaughter said of his teammate.

The Gauchos are very optimistic heading into the year, and have lofty goals set for the upcoming season.

“First we have a couple teams we want to beat,” said Slaughter. “Definitely USC, and a lot of guys want BYU too. Mainly, our goals are to make a run at the MPSF title and make the playoffs poised to make a championship run.”